Application Season & Duck Syndrome
My name is Estelle and I'm a freshman (aka a "'23") from Seattle. Welcome to People Places Pines!
Having recently concluded fall term, it seems crazy that exactly one year ago I was elbow-deep in college applications.
If you are a prospective student, college might feel a long way away. It certainly did for me. My academic future was full of unknowns. How did I know who I wanted to be and what I wanted to do?
I can't tell you how to get accepted to Dartmouth, just as I'm not going to tell you how to get rejected from other selective colleges (but I do know about that).
However, I am experienced on the matter of doubt and the application process. My pursuits seemed frail compared to the online guides I read for competitive applications, which flaunted a brand of academic perfection that opened a yawning pit in my stomach. What was I doing? Who did I think I was? Wouldn't it be better not to apply, to preserve the possible acceptance which lay like freshly fallen snow before me? I could remain blissfully ignorant rather than muddy the hopeful sight.
The thought of rejection shook me to my rainboots.
Today, I'd like to offer what little advice I have to give. It meshes pretty well with that of the friends who went through the process alongside me. While everyone's application process is different, I wish I'd been privy to the notion of "Duck Syndrome" before embarking upon the mountain of essays and tests which marked my development as a collegiate hopeful.
(Duck Syndrome, as it was defined to me: Consider a pond full of ducks. Observed from above water, they drift calmly and without care. But below the surface, their legs are paddling mightily to keep themselves moving. They're working a lot harder than they let on.)
When approaching the college application process, I was determined to do my best but have reasonable expectations for myself. College applications were not going to take up all of my life. This resolution was actually easy to keep, thanks to a lesson I learned pretty quickly: life doesn't stop because you're applying for college. It was comforting to know that, while essays beckoned and due dates loomed, I was still required to attend school, do my homework, keep up with chores, exercise, and eat. And sleep. And breathe. You know what I mean.
Senior fall was a stressful season, but looking back, I could have lightened the emotional load I heaped upon myself. This little duck felt at times like she was drowning. Only later did I realize that I wasn't the only one paddling frantically.
But to carry the metaphor a bit further: remember that ducks are naturally buoyant.
So if you're feeling (as I did) that you are not working hard enough, or you simply refuse to close that tab telling you exactly how to get into the Ivy League which makes you cringe every time you read it because you compare your story to the one glowing from the screen and wonder why on Earth you even bother… don't. Like my mom says: "If I compared myself to everyone around me, I'd be a failure."
While I was accepted to Dartmouth, I also received my share of rejections. It's not all bad: most schools write heartwarming rejection letters, and two of my favorite interviews were for schools which eventually did not accept me. I enjoyed the adventure that comes along with the college process.
Dartmouth is my ideal school because it offers an environment conducive to unparalleled discovery among students whose camaraderie is equaled only by their ambition. Dartmouth's physical size, a pinprick on a map, creates an enduring student and alumni connection to the world at large.
I benefited incredibly from learning that college is a place you go to learn more about the world and your place within it. And you can make that happen anywhere. As I've been told time and again: A prestigious name doesn't confer success. Hard work does.
Wherever you are in your application process, I wish you all the best. And remember to stop paddling every now and then and enjoy the view.